Okay, I admit it...I was sceptical about the inaugural title on the Wonderbook: the Book of Spells. What on earth is augmented reality, I wondered huffily. And why on earth would I want to play a game that basically involves reading a book on a PS3?
I’m happy to report I was totally totally wrong. The Book of Spells was absolutely enchanting (ha ha!) from start to finish, and I loved it.
After selecting a wand, choosing which of the four Hogwarts Houses you wish to join, and taking a wizard photo, you are given your copy of the Book of Spells from the restricted section of the library. You go through the Book of Spells chapter by chapter, learning charms and jinxes exactly as a student at Hogwarts would do. (Or Durmstrang, or Beauxbaxtons for that matter.) You are taught the incantations to say out loud for each spell, and learn the corresponding wand movements that go with it. And the book will correct you if you get either wrong. (And yes, it can hear you saying the incantation!)
The presentation of the game is very slick and polished. You see yourself displayed on the TV screen, with a wand in your hand, and the animated book of spells open in front of you. And it really looks like you are holding a wand, while the book itself looks amazing. Like any wizard publication, many of the illustrations on each page move or hold enchantments for you to interact with, such as pulling the words off the page using the tip of your wand.
The interface is inventive and fun. You use your wand to interact with the book, and turn the physical pages on the plain Wonderbook in front of you to move to the next page of the animated Book of Spells on the screen. You can also dust the book off with your hands, or tilt it up to tip water off it.
The story was written by JK Rowling herself, and it shows: it feels very authentic. This is definitely not someone else’s clumsy take on the Potter universe. This is best illustrated in the charming little animated stories within each chapter about the origins of some of the spells, and the witches and wizards who invented them.
You work your way through the book, and learn increasingly more complicated spells as you go. The book creates ‘safe practise areas’ for you to try out your new spells, such a herbology greenhouse, or the Hogwarts kitchens.
At the end of each chapter you take a test, during which you’ll have to use each of the spells you’ve learned in that chapter. You also learn a conundrum, as narrated by the book’s author, Miranda Goshawk.
At the end of all the chapters, you have to put all the pieces together, and learn the overall lesson that she wishes to teach all young witches and wizards.
As well as all that, a mysterious previous owner of the spell book has written their own notes on certain pages throughout, with their own comments and things to learn.
The orchestral music is very nicely arranged and appropriate; it manages to sound like the Harry Potter we know and love, without using the main movie themes. (Because of course, this title is not a direct movie tie in.) The main narrator (a charming Scottish fellow) is helpful without being too repetitive or patronising. That said, this is a game for children, so it’s pretty blindingly obvious what you need to do, and helpful advice is offered at the drop of a (wizard) hat.
The only possible downside that I can see for this title is the number of peripheral devices you need: a PlayStation 3, Playstation Move motion controller, Playstation Eye camera, and the Wonderbook. Of course you can get bundles (the Playstation Move Starter pack bundle alone has the motion controller and eye camera) but given the game’s target audience, this might be difficult to understand. (And could lead to tears on Christmas Day if they can’t actually play the game they begged Santa to give them, because they don’t have all the equipment they need!)
That aside, Book of Spells is absolutely delightful, and as an out and proud Harry Potter nerd, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed playing it. I levitated things around my lounge, shrunk and grew scorpions and gnomes, burnt paper dragons, chased nifflers around for their galleons, and laughed a lot. If you are a Harry Potter fan - young or old - you need to give this a look. Highly recommended.